June 10, 2013 9:42:56 AM
NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana and Mississippi residents who want to go after alligators this fall have deadlines coming up.
The deadline for all hunts is June 17 in Mississippi, where 920 permits are available for public land. Each lets the hunter take two alligators.
It's Mississippi's first statewide hunt since the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks began selling permits in 2005 for public lands and in 2007 for private land, where the number of two-gator vouchers depends on the amount of open water owned.
Last year, Mississippi charged $10 per application. This year the applications are free, though the winners must still pay for licenses and tags. The change has brought a flood of applications, said Ricky Flynt, alligator hunting coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks.
The department got 7,212 applications last year. Flynt said that mark was passed Wednesday, three days into the two-week process. More than 2,300 people had sent in 8,400 applications to hunt in the various zones Wednesday evening, and the application total was more than 10,000 Thursday afternoon, he said.
One-quarter of the public land permits are reserved for first-time applicants, and people who have applied before without getting a permit have a better chance than people who have already hunted for alligators in Mississippi.
A total of 645 alligators were taken from Mississippi's public lands last year.
That was less than half the total allowed for the 810 permits, but more than double the 306 taken in 2011, when there were 480 permits.
Thursday's deadline is only the first of several in Louisiana.
"We also do lottery hunts on some of the wildlife management areas. Those applications for lottery hunts are due July 5. For the majority of the harvest, which occurs on private lands, those applications are due in by August 20th," said Noel Kinler, head of the alligator program for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
He said he expects about 100 or so applicants for the wildlife management area "experimental" hunts; about 3,000 for lottery hunts and about 4,000 to hunt on private lands.
The regulations are very different in the two states. For instance, while Mississippi allows for a specific gator total, Louisiana's allowed catch is set annually for each property depending on the number of alligator nests found by state biologists. And, while most alligators taken in Louisiana are caught on baited hooks, those are illegal for gator hunting in Mississippi.
"I would describe the difference between Louisiana and Mississippi is that Louisiana's is more of a commercial season and Mississippi's is more of a sport, recreational season," Flynt said.
It's also a difference of scale. "We're going to end up harvesting 34,000 gators in our wild season," Kinler said.
Guns or bows and arrows can be used to kill alligators in Louisiana, though shotguns are illegal and bowhunting allowed only on private lands. If a bow is used, the arrowhead must be barbed and must be attached to a 300-pound test line, with the line's other end attached to something that will keep the line above water when an arrow is attached.
"Extreme caution should be used when harvesting free swimming alligators to ensure that alligators can be retrieved once harvested," the department notes on its website in a note for those hunting with firearms.
Mississippi laws forbid killing alligators that are not controlled by a noose or snare around neck or leg, and require hunters to capture alligators alive before shooting them. Alligators may be caught on a hand-held line or on a rod and reel, but bait or lures cannot be used. Hand-held snares and harpoons or bowfishing equipment are also allowed. Alligators harpooned or shot with a bow must be killed. They cannot be released.
And, while shotguns are barred in Louisiana, the only firearms allowed to kill gators in Mississippi are long-barreled, shoulder-fired shotguns with shot size no larger than No. 6, and bangsticks -- firearms designed to be shot point-blank under water -- chambered in .38 caliber or larger.
Alligator hunting is not covered by hunting and fishing license agreements that let hunters or anglers with a license from one state hunt or fish in waters across the state line if the seasons or bag limits are the same.
Knowing just where you can and cannot hunt is "quite complicated, particularly when you're north of St. Francisville and get into all the oxbows," Kinler said. "Some people have to access Mississippi properties by coming in through Louisiana and vice versa.
"You need to know if you're a hunter. That's your responsibility."